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What More Can Government Do As Schools Reopen?

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The closure of Schools in March 2020 made over 15 million students, teachers and other school employees to go back home, most of students helping their parents in work. Since then, the government has been promising citizens to open up schools soon, this made most schools, parents and students to involve in E-learning to make their students ready for school and continue their learning. The reopening date kept on extending till yesterday when the president had an address to the nation where promised that schools will be reopened on 19th October 2020 for finalists.

The government has tried to support students by providing different reading materials of all classes to aid students in their education during the lock down. It provided 10 billion to teachers though this money didn’t reach the teachers and was embezzled by corrupt officials in the government.

During this COVID holiday, students, parents, teachers and students lost hope and due to this, many teachers started suffering to an extent of getting jobs below their statuses like involving in brick making, making chapatti and hawking. On the students’ side, girls got pregnant and some are sold by their parents in exchange for food and money to help sustain in the COVID situation, some boys have also started working to support their families and themselves, others have got wives and responsibilities and have no hope to find themselves in classes in a short period of time.

Students attend class at Calidarity Primary School in Kyotera . Photo by Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda

On the other hand, many private schools have made a lot of losses during this season and some have reached an extent of closing and getting sold due to taxes and loans which they recently received earlier during their normal operations. Many teachers weren’t paid by their schools in this lock down and because of this most students and teachers are suspected not to go back to school because they now have stronger businesses well paying businesses to manage. And this will increase the rate of dropouts in schools thus leading to a radial decline in the educational sector in Uganda.

What the president said on reopening schools

We have decided to re-open schools for the candidate classes of P-7, S-4, S-6, finalists in tertiary colleges and finalists in Universities. Why? Number one, we think that it is safe because the finalists in each learning institution are a much smaller number compared to the total enrollment in these Centers. Indeed, the total number of finalists is 1.2million learners out of the total of 15million, less than 10%. Therefore, each group of finalists will have bigger space for social distancing – whether they are in day schools or boarding schools. If they follow the SOPs, they will be safe. Moreover, the cost of waiting any further, is quite high. Why? It is because of the jam that will be created in terms of the usual transition from the Primary School, Lower Secondary schools, Higher Secondary Schools, tertiary colleges and Universities, respectively. If the batch of 2020 do not move on, what will happen to the batch of 2021? Can we afford to have two batches in 2021? The answer is a clear: “no”. Fortunately, it can be done safely if people follow the SOPs.

 A solution for the nominalist learners will be found by January 2021. International schools that have got less numbers, can engage the Ministry of Health on the way forward. The Schools will open for finalists on the 15th of October, 2020. We are aware of the dilemma of the Private Schools that were operating on money from Banks etc. We have tried to help the teachers in Private schools by giving them a Ushs. 20BN (twenty billion shillings) grant for their SACCO. We shall continue to study and see how the Government can affordably, further, support these Ugandans – the teachers. The schools will now open in the limited way pointed out above. If for some reasons, there are private schools that cannot re-open on account of the obvious disruption of the business of the Private Schools, the Ministry of Education is already directed to expand the number of secondary schools.

 We were assuming a secondary school enrollment of 2 million learners (the current number is 1.6 million learners). If we take one classroom and one teacher to cater for 50 learners, we need 40,000 classrooms and 40,000 classroom teachers. If you assume a school of two streams per class up to S.4 and then a science and an Arts class for S.5 and S.6, each will be having 12 classroom units. This will, therefore, mean about 3,340 schools to accommodate the 2 million secondary school learners. The Government already has 1,267 Secondary Schools and we are planning to build 374 new ones. I direct the Ministry of Education to study the number of community schools that the Government can take over in the areas that do not have Government Secondary Schools.

 If the worst came to the worst, the Government should have the capacity to absorb into Government schools all the learners and even teachers that are shed off by Private Schools on account of the financial difficulties facing private schools, precipitated by the Covid-19 crisis. The Minister of Finance should also meet the owners of the Private Schools and see how the Government could come to their aid. The Government should not only think of rescuing the learners and the teachers and remain oblivious of the plight of those Ugandan entrepreneurs that invested in private schools because they did not know that a terrible disease would come from bats in distant China and cause so much chaos. Can UDB help? What is the magnitude? The Government plan for distance learning, through the provision of 9 million radio-sets, is on course. The money is available. That route of alternative learning will continue to be consolidated, not only for dealing with the present crisis, but also for the future. That strategy may have some advantages such as democratizing access by all to good teachers etc.  

In conclusion, the government should consider giving tax holidays to schools and request banks to adjust the loan repaying periods of schools to help them in the smooth running of operations. Besides the government shouldn’t focus only in reopening schools but should also focus on aiding parents in taking back their children to school because most of them are financially unstable and are not capable of taking back their children to school.

Article by Ashunter Lubega

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